Taiwan deploys extra troops as anger over rescue grows

  • Ben Yeh, AFP, Liukuai
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  • Updated: Aug 13, 2009 14:42 IST

Taiwan on Thursday deployed thousands of extra troops as it faced growing public anger and pressure to rescue people trapped by deadly landslides triggered by Typhoon Morakot.

The military said 4,000 more soldiers were added to the rescue effort, bringing the total to 34,000, as the death toll from the island’s worst floods in half a century rose to 108 with fears it may rise dramatically.

Helicopters were scouring remote areas of southern and central Taiwan dropping food and medicines to cut-off villages and evacuating people to safety, while rain continued to pound the island off southeast China.

Nearly 14,000 people have been airlifted to safety since last weekend’s typhoon, which dumped three metres (120 inches) of rain, but the government has been accused by survivors and politicians of doing too little, too late.

Dozens of mountain villages populated mainly by indigenous aboriginal tribes have been totally cut off for days after landslides destroyed roads and bridges, leaving them only accessible by air.

Tempers have flared as desperate relatives have gathered at rescue centers -- police and soldiers Wednesday had to push back people who tried to storm their way on to helicopters heading to the stricken zone.

“32 DEAD, SOS,” read a sign painted in red on a smashed bridge at the only entrance to the village of Hsinfa, a hot spring resort where bodies were found buried by mudslides.

“We are helpless. We are forgotten. We have been waiting for the helicopters without supplies,” one villager told AFP.

“The government has been slow in its response and inefficient in its execution,” said an editorial in the Apple Daily, reflecting widespread media criticism.

President Ma Ying-jeou was confronted by relatives complaining about his government’s handling of the crisis on Thursday when he travelled to the county of Yunlin to inspect relief efforts.

He deflected criticism his administration had been too proud to ask for outside help by saying the United States, Japan and Singapore had already made donations and that help from other countries was welcome.

An intense rescue effort has been focused on Hsiaolin and several neighbouring villages in Kaohsiung county which have been almost totally destroyed by landslides.

While around 1,000 survivors have been found and several hundred airlifted to safety, it is feared more than 100 people could have been buried alive under the rubble.

The National Fire Agency said around 200 people were trapped and awaiting evacuation at another hot spring resort in Liukuai, a township made up of a cluster of mountain villages.

Villagers told AFP that more people could have been buried alive as some villages were either flattened or badly damaged in the typhoon.

Typhoon Morakot caused an estimated 280 million US dollars of damage to agriculture and tens of millions of dollars of lost tourism revenue to the scenic mountain regions where hot spring spas are popular.

The storm also hit mainland China where it killed at least eight people and destroyed thousands of houses.

China has so far donated around 16 million US dollars for Taiwan’s typhoon relief efforts, while Hong Kong pop star and actor Andy Lau was to front a major flood relief fundraising effort in Taipei on Friday.

Morakot was one of the worst typhoons to strike Taiwan in 50 years.


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